Prince & bishop

One of the major back stories about Bahrain is the disjunction between the religious confession of the ruling family, and the populace. The elite and the monarchy are Sunni, while the masses are Shia. This is of a piece with the nearly 1,000 years of rule of the Arab Shia by Sunni monarchs since the fall of the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt (who were Shia sectarians). Yes, there were pockets of Shia Arab rule such as the highlands of Yemen, but by and large the Shia Arabs had to look to outsiders, such as the Shia of Iran from the 16th century on, to protect their interests. Even where they were a majority, as in much of the Persian Gulf and in Iraq, it was the assumption that Sunnis would rule. That order seems to be collapsing. Syria has long between dominated by a quasi-Shia Alawite minority, and has been Iran’s ally in the Arab world, both due to geopolitics (similar to the alliance of Scotland and France against England), as well as the common distrust of Sunni radicalism. Iraq in 2003 shifted from Sunni domination to mass rule of the Shia. Finally, Lebanon seems to have switched from a de facto Maronite-Sunni condominium to a polity directed by the cohesive collective action by the Shia (possibly a plural majority). This is the “Shia Crescent,” stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. The main exception to this is the Persian Gulf proper, where large Shia populations are dominated culturally, politically, and socially, by Sunni elites in eastern Arabia, as they have been from time immemorial. How sustainable is this?

Does it matter? All I can say is that the Al Khalifa should remember that Paris was worth a  mass.

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